A Half-dozen Steps to Going Paperless

File Cabinet

File Cabinet, you've overstayed your welcome. I want you out by year's end.

I’ve got a goal this fall. My home office is going paperless. We have four filing cabinets in our house, and by year’s end we will have only one, and that one will be fairly empty, if I can help it.

The advantage of going paperless is this: paperless turns your filing cabinets into retrieving systems. Once my paper files are digitized and stored, I will be much better able to retrieve them with simple search terms on my computer. No more wondering where something is stuffed away. A simple search should bring it up.

It’ll take a lot of work, but I believe it will be worth it. This takes a plan. You’re welcome to join me in this. Here it is.

1. Pull a file.

Yesterday I pulled our natural gas file. You probably have a file like this in your file cabinet. I never think about it much. I get the bill in the mail, open it, log into my online banking (I’ve abandoned check-writing long ago, didn’t you?), pay the bill, throw away the junk in the letter, and file the paid bill away.

In my gas bill file, I had over a hundred bills stacked up in a row. I’ve been stuffing the file since 2000 when we moved to Colorado. Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll need a record of my $50 gas bill from ten years ago. (Don’t laugh at me!) The file was about 1-1/2 inches thick.

2. Digitize the paper files.

I have a nice scanner-copier for my business, so it’s easy for me. I stacked my gas bills up in the side feeder, pressed a few buttons, and scanned 112 pages of bills. This converted everything to a 52 MB PDF file. Eat your heart out. Owning a publishing company has its perks, and a scanner-copier that scans 55 pages per minute is sweet.

Finding a scanner-copier that works as fast as mine may be difficult, but they are becoming popular. (Michael Hyatt posted about this here.) Besides, there are services that provide this for people. Your local copy store will digitize files for you and burn a CD of data just as you want.

3. Store the files.

I’m drawing a line in the sand of my life. Pre-2012 was my “papered” life. From now on, I’m living a “paperless” life. This scanned file is record of my “papered” life. So, I stored it on my home server as “Natural Gas Bills” in a file called “Archived Papers.” If I ever need to retrieve my gas bill from pre-2011 (stop laughing at me, I may just have to some day), I’ll know where to go.

4. Shred, baby, shred.

I have a Bulldog Shredder able to gobble up 25 pages at a time. It’s a lot of fun, and my kids run into the office when they hear the Bulldog revving up. They know how to safely shred Daddy’s documents into the magical shredding machine. It’s good home-office bonding time with the kids.

Shredding is necessary. If you don’t own a shredder, consider getting one. The same copy service you got to scan your documents probably has a shredding service, too. Don’t just throw your bills in the garbage. They hold personal information that you wouldn’t want Guido the Landfill Guy to get a hold of.

5. Figure out the paperless route.

It just so happened that my gas bill had an invitation to go paperless. Right there, on the front of my bill, right next to an image of a tree to shame me into thinking I would be “saving” the environment if I “saved” the gas company money to opt out of an mailed letter every month. (There’s an ironic joke there somewhere: a natural gas company encouraging me to be good to the environment.) I’ve ignored the invitation for years, just like you. I read the fine print and learned that my gas company could (1) draw my total directly from my bank account every month on the day it’s due and (2) send me an email bill to replace my paper bill.

I followed the steps in a few short minutes, and now I won’t ever receive a paper bill again. Since the money draws from my account on the day it’s due, I will actually save some money because I’ll keep it for as long as I can before the bill is due. And I won’t have to scan the bill into my printer, either. When I get my first bill next month via email, I’ll be sure to set up an email filter so I won’t have to give it a second of my thought.

To think, I spent about 10 minutes every month to (1) retrieve and open my bill, (2) log into my bank, (3) type in the exact amount I owed, (4) press send, (5) waste time considering the junk advertising that comes with the bill before throwing it away, and (6) find my file in my file cabinet to file the paper bill away. I did some quick math. Over 10 years, I spent a total of 20 hours paying my gas bill. In 2020, I think I’ll take a 1/2 week vacation to celebrate the time saved.

6. Move to the next file.

I’m looking forward to diving into my electric bill file, my insurance papers, my bank reconciliation statements, etc. By year’s end, it’ll all be digitally filed away and ready to retrieve. IRS, go ahead and audit me. File cabinet, you’re being donated to Good Will soon. My files will be safely stored on my server and in the Cloud. It’s all good.

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Ginger

    Ok, do tell: why do you need years worth of paid bills? Surely a few months, or even a year would suffice. But if you online bill-pay, your bank has record of your payments, so why save more?ย 
    We have several bills we haven’t gone paperless on yet either. How embarrassing! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Chris Jeub

      Well, isn’t it obvious, Ginger? You never know. You, er, may need it. You know, someday, for some reason.

      • Ginger

        Hehe. You and my husband. He can’t explain it either, so he keeps them all at his office. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • trooppetrie

    we have almost completly gone paperless. The less paper the better. I have our bill form. Every month I write down what we paid the changing bills like electric. That way I know Aug is about $400 and March is about $200. but that is it. I was not good at shredding so it would stack up. It is great during the winter when i can just throw it in the fireplace but summer it just stacks up